With over 51 years experience in solar technology, SCHOTT Solar deserves the accolades it gets for being on the leading-edge of solar innovations in Europe and beyond. A wholly-owned subsidiary of the international SCHOTT Group, SCHOTT Solar employs more than 2,000 people worldwide—100 of them in research and development.
SCHOTT has done what newer solar companies can only dream of: establish a reputation and standing in a niche market that is brimming with opportunities.
SCHOTT has capitalized on solar energy demand, starting in the company’s native Germany, and continues to spread the word about solar energy through its many public initiatives. SCHOTT Solar’s CEO, Martin Heming, says that U.S. President Obama’s visit to one of SCHOTT’s facilities during his candidacy was something of a proud moment for the company, considering that the international SCHOTT group has been around for 125 years. “It’s very important to work with governments and politicians in various countries,” he explains, all in the name of promoting sustainable energy development.
Leading in technology and innovation
SCHOTT Solar’s photovoltaic products capture the sun’s energy and provide carbon free electricity all year round. SCHOTT develops innovative, high-quality photovoltaic products including those in crystalline photovoltaics and in thin-film technology. What’s more, is that their product models will work reliably over a long time, and with uncompromising quality. Ensuring premium quality and remaining a reliable partner are what set the company apart from its competitors in both photovoltaics and CSP technology. “On both the photovoltaics and CSP sides, we have to become naturally competitive and innovative to bring costs down. This means we have to improve the value of our product to our customers,” Heming reasons.
The company is a technology leader for receivers for Concentrated Solar Power plants with parabolic trough technology—currently the most proven solar thermal electric technology. CSP technology converts sunlight to heat by using large rows of parabolic-shaped mirrors, so the sun’s radiation is concentrated up to 80-fold on the receivers. Heat transfer oil is heated at this stage, and via a heat exchanger, steam is emitted that drives traditional steam turbines. Even during night hours, thermal accumulators can enable reliable generation of electricity. As an example, a solar plant with an output of 50 megawatts consists of approximately 360,000 square metres reflecting surface, and around 15,000 receivers—with a total length of about 60 kilometres.
CSP plants are ideal for energy generation, and run exceptionally well within the earth’s sun belt—certainly in the states in the Mediterranean region. The other advantage to CSP plants is that they can be combined with fossil energy sources or biomass, which can contribute to a safe and reliable energy supply. SCHOTT Solar supplying the CSP plant industry directly contributes to making tomorrow’s alternative energy production possible, using technology that has been tested and works, economically and environmentally in the long-term.
SCHOTT’s Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) division
The receivers SCHOTT Solar develops for CSP plants are currently produced in Mitterteich, Aznalcóllar (Spain) and in Albuquerque (NM, USA). CSP technology can be used for electricity generation as well as for large-scale applications. Amongst the various CSP processes, solar power plants with parabolic trough technology have proven their practical value for more than 20 years. SCHOTT Solar is one of the world’s leading suppliers of a key component for this technology—the receiver. According to Heming, the CSP PTR 70 receiver is “certainly the most unique product” that SCHOTT offers.
By developing and providing the CSP receiver to the solar market, SCHOTT has established itself as one of the world’s leading suppliers of CSP plant components. The precision of the tubes in the four-metre-long receivers are vacuum sealed and embedded in a glass body. The receivers are the key to the efficiency of parabolic trough power plant technology—as they convert solar radiation to heat.
SCHOTT’s PTR 70 Receiver is manufactured with a new type of anti-reflection coating, which has a high abrasion resistance and allows transmission of more than 96 per cent of the sun’s radiation—clearly a high level, especially in parts of the world that see the sun most of the year. According to SCHOTT Solar, “The absorber coating has an absorption degree of approximately 95 per cent and very low emittance of below 10 per cent heat radiation at a temperature of about 350 to 400 centigrade”. The other unique aspect of the received is that about 96 per cent of the length of the product is actually used.
Comparison measurements on the PTR 70 were completed by the “Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt” (DLR) on the “Plataforma Solar de Almería” testing grounds in southern Spain, and those tests confirmed that the receiver is two per cent more efficient than competitors’ models. SCHOTT Solar’s next generation receiver tubes using direct steam or molten salt technology already are tested in the field today.
Another proud event for the company: SCHOTT Solar got recognition for delivering more than 23,000 receivers for the first European solar power plant in the south of Spain.
SCHOTT Solar photovoltaics—success in all markets
SCHOTT Solar leads the solar energy market in photovoltaics, in addition to CSP technology. SCHOTT Solar’s manufacturing is automated, which, according to the company, ensures products are of the highest quality. The company also employs strict quality controls in all levels of production and uses only high quality products.
Their photovoltaic modules are some of the most viable and profitable in the market. The Fraunhofer Institute, a German research organization, did a long-term study looking at SCHOTT’s solar panels, and found that they achieved a performance stability of 94.5 per cent—an excellent rating for such a technology. Other studies have further proven the viability of SCHOTT Solar products. One such study proved that the energy return period for photovoltaic modules made by the company under German radiation conditions (about 950 hours of sunshine annually) is less than three years. According the company, modules made with EFG® technology only need just over two years to recover their embedded energy. SCHOTT Solar power modules are designed to yield high energy per kilowatt of output installed.
SCHOTT Solar’s all-rounder model
SCHOTT Solar’s POLY™ 175 high-performance module was created for use on roofs, and SCHOTT has dominated this market for some time. The “all-rounder” module, meant for long-term use, is characterized by polycrystalline solar cells with exceptionally low-power tolerance. The technology provides a stable high-energy output, and an increased reversed current resistance minimizes wiring costs. The module itself can handle a system voltage of up to 1,000V, and can withstand pressure and suction loads of up to 550kg per square metre.
It’s no wonder SCHOTT Solar is recognized as a market leader, and provides a performance guarantee on all its products—the all-rounder currently comes with a 25-year guarantee.
SCHOTT Solar can rely on its international sales network for ongoing support, and the company hopes to continue growing internationally. Illustrating SCHOTT’s global reach and market strength, their photovoltaic products are currently produced in Alzenau, Jena, Putzbrunn, Valašské Meziíí (Czech Republic) and in Albuquerque (NM, USA).
The company’s global presence stems from a strong local market domination in Germany. However, according to Heming, “over the past year [SCHOTT] has seen some dramatic changes in the market”. When the global financial crisis hit, the Spanish market for solar products diminished in parallel, and the company had to rely on local markets to keep the business robust. Luckily, that wasn’t a problem for SCHOTT Solar. Heming, who has been with the company since the late ‘1980s, says that the company’s 50-year history in photovoltaics has created a “loyal relationship with German customers—when the Spanish market boomed and afterwards”.
“During the economic crisis, these customers were very loyal to us when times got rough, and so, we’ve seen a little increase in the last 12 months in terms of revenue and megawatts,” Heming adds. He measures success in money as well as megawatts—showing how truly intertwined the company’s dedication to sustainable energy is with their bottom line.
“Although regulations in the government might change, a very stable pillar in the market is the German market. Germany really puts a focus on renewable, giving those types of energy priority. Germany has showed a clear outline as to how renewable energy can become competitive—and there is well-developed infrastructure putting that into place.”
SCHOTT Solar’s brand will most certainly bring the company into expanding markets, as Heming hopes the U.S. will respond and see the need for more sustainable energy. “The year 2009 saw us relying heavily on the German market. But in 2010 I see a dramatic shift of export and regional deliveries. It is important for us to support this shift with the internationalization of our sales force activities. We have to do this in order to be a prime supplier of benchmark technologies and stay competitive” Heming explains,. “On the CSP side we see two issues: relying too heavily on the Spanish market, and setting the proper political frameworks to facilitate investments in solar energy”—in Europe and elsewhere. However, Heming believes that with a great brand behind them, and people committed to the sustainability message, things will go SCHOTT’s way: “SCHOTT is a brand, and people trust it.”